Remembering Vin Scully, broadcasting legend

On a day where the baseball world anticipated, celebrated, and mocked blockbuster trades before the deadline, including Juan Soto to San Diego, some sadder news cut through the noise: Vin Scully, the long-time Dodgers play-by-play announcer widely considered one of the best broadcasters in the history of the game, had passed away at age 94. The Dodgers announced Scully’s passing via tweet and released the following statement:

“He was the voice of the Dodgers, and so much more. He was their conscience, their poet laureate, capturing their beauty and chronicling their glory from Jackie Robinson to Sandy Koufax, Kirk Gibson to Clayton Kershaw. Vin Scully was the heartbeat of the Dodgers – and in so many ways, the heartbeat of all of Los Angeles.”

The baseball world reacted quickly to the news. In San Francisco, where the Dodgers were playing the Giants, the home club honoured Scully on the scoreboard after the game:

Scully, born in 1927 in The Bronx, grew up listening to College Football on the radio under his duvet, and later worked calling games whilst at Fordham University. For a brief time he played ball at Fordham, and in 1947, when they faced off against Yale, he was at centre field whilst future president George W Bush started at first base for the opposition.

Whilst at Fordham Scully sent over 150 letters to radio stations up and down the East Coast. He received just one reply, from a CBS affiliate in Washington, and was hired. Three years later, having joined the Brooklyn Dodgers radio booth, he called the 1953 World Series between the Yankees and the Dodgers. He was just 25 and the youngest person to ever call a World Series, a mark which still stands today.

In addition to working for the Dodgers, Scully also worked national broadcasts for Major League Baseball, the NFL, the PGA Tour, NBC Sports, CBS and The Masters. His most famous NFL call came with CBS in 1982, as play-by-play announcer for Joe Montana’s touchdown pass to Dwight Clark in the NFC Championship. Or, ‘The Catch’:

Scully transcended location and broadcasting medium, having first called the Dodgers on the radio in Brooklyn, then later in Los Angeles and on the TV after their move across the country in 1957. His euphonious voice, undisputed baseball knowledge and poetic powers of description were hallmarks of quality commentary much imitated but never successfully equalled. Many of baseball’s most memorable moments are to the Scully soundtrack, the calls now so intertwined with the action on the field that fans remember his words as readily as the detail of the action on the field. He called three perfect games (including Don Larsen in the 1956 World Series, and Sandy Koufax in 1965) and 18 no-hitters across a 67-year broadcasting run which made him the longest-tenured broadcaster with a single team not just in baseball, but in all of professional sports history.

For much of his tenure he called games alone, which seems inconceivable in the modern age. But Scully had the patience and warmth to do it successfully. On radio broadcasts, he somehow simultaneously gave you the feeling that you were in the stand and that he was in your living room.

Scully knew that saying nothing could be more impactful than filling the silence. When Hank Aaron broke Babe Ruth’s home run record in 1974, Scully called the play – “Fastball. It’s a line drive into deep centerfield. Buckner goes back to the fence, it is gone!” – and then said nothing for 32 seconds, an absolute age in broadcasting terms, instead allowing the viewer to drink in the significance of the moment and listen to the crowd. When he did finally break his silence, he spoke to the momentous occasion like no other could, masterfully capturing the emotion and resonance of the achievement in an era and locale where racial tensions still undercut everyday life – “What a marvellous moment for baseball. What a marvellous moment for Atlanta and the state of Georgia. What a marvellous moment for the country and the world. A Black man is getting a standing ovation in the Deep South for breaking a record of an all-time baseball idol. And it’s a great moment for all of us.”

Scully was the master of the statement-pause-reflection method of conversational broadcasting. Once, after announcing that a player had an injury designation of ‘day-to-day’, he paused and added, “aren’t we all?”

Even in talking about his craft, Scully was poetic – he once said of statistics that the announcer uses them as a drunk uses a lamppost, “for support, not illumination”. Though there was something decidedly oldskool about this opinion (many would argue that statistics do, indeed, illuminate), Scully nevertheless fully embraced the modern game in his later years, still broadcasting as the voice of the Dodgers aged 88, before his retirement in 2016. An intensely private man outside of his job, Scully rarely gave interviews or appeared publicly. This added to his mystique. When you heard his voice, it was important, because there was a game on. He opened his broadcasts with the affable, familiar, “It’s time for Dodger baseball. Hi, everybody, and a very pleasant good evening to you wherever you may be.”

I first came across Scully when I was researching the history of the Mets, my adopted team, in an effort to steep myself in their lore and feel more confident in my nascent fandom. I heard his voice on a number of highlights packages and classic calls and ended up spending much of the time I had set aside for learning about the Mets instead trawling YouTube for more Scully. Sometimes the two intertwined – for Met fans, one of the most famous moments in franchise history, the winning hit of Game Six in the 1986 World Series, was called by Vin, “So, the winning run is at second base…with two out…3 and 2 to Mookie Wilson. Little roller up along first…behind the bag! It gets through Buckner! Here comes Knight, and the Mets win it!”

Scully’s legacy will be as long-lasting, impactful, and emotional as his broadcasting career. When the current Dodgers roster heard the news after the game in San Francisco last night, some of them got together in the food room and watched old clips on YouTube. If you have the time and inclination to do the same in the coming days and weeks, it will be worth it.

Vin Scully died at his home in Hidden Hills, California, on August 2, 2022, at the age of 94.

Featured image of Vin Scully by MLB on Twitter @MLB

Joshua Edwards is a long-time Met fan and the London Series correspondent for Bat Flips & Nerds. You can follow him on Twitter at @Joshwa_1990

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